I caught the bus to Sydney


I caught the bus to Sydney, one morning last week. Canberra to Sydney. A taxi pick up at 5 AM. I have a penchant for being early. Although it is only a five minute ride to the bus depot, I bring a book and make sure I am there on time. Well, before time actually, but it gives me time for that pre-journey "P" (there are three Ps in Peppinck, and that is about right for the journey!). Perhaps one aboard the swaying bus, and as the terminus for our journey is Central station, there are plenty of facilities there!

The journey is an easy three hour drive along the freeways - until you get to the outskirts of Sydney and the traffic is as in molasses. So I did the maths and gauged the mental exhaustion of remaining focused on the drive, even though my car has cruise control. I get to a stage where it is also easy at 110 km/h that I'm sometimes tempted to hop in the back and just let Wilhelmus, the name of my orange car, simply deliver me to the destination (think Dutch, good reader. It is the name of the Dutch national anthem. I was born there, far too many years ago, as a "first spasm" of Baby Boomers).

I assess the cost of fuel and wear and tear on Wilhelmus, the ease of having a professional, experienced interstate bus driver take care of me at virtually the same cost, with no anxiety - well, it's a No Brainer. Sydney, with its always busy traffic, is like New York or London. If you can, you leave the car behind, and catch the train. Sydney has a good rail network combined with an underground. For much of your day, you see a lot of moles appearing from mother Earth, especially during peak hours, many clasping their little cups of coffee. Heart starters, to engage the cerebral gears of the office worker.

River through the bush. From I caught the bus to Sydney
River through the bush

I always take an aisle seat on buses and aeroplanes. While I am delighted to look out of the window, nature’s calling now leads me to seek the aisle, for the reason that I told you about earlier. And then, because it is still dark in these mornings as we are no longer in daylight saving time, I reached for my book and turned on the little light which helps make reading easier, especially in the dark. I of course, asked my three hour seated neighbour if I could turn on the light. With a smile, "no worries," I so proceeded. Besides, she was busy with her iPhone, which she had already plugged into the bus jack, in between us.

By 0645, Miss Daylight was starting to stretch and slowly throw back the bed clothes. Soon the light engaged in a dance of a thousand veils, each slowly exposing, not just the more sightly bits, but all in revelation. Monet painted the same scene, again and again, in trying to capture the light. I can fully understand, for she is a fickle lady, clothing the world in varying moods.

Not that Miss iPhone was in any way interested, after all, she had Kim Kardashian on her iPhone. Much more important, you say? And yet and yet, as the morning slowly came upon us all in the bus, I looked at nearby fellow passengers. Those who were not dozing were also hunched over their iPhones. The real beauty, right outside the window, simply passed them by. 

I felt like waking the sleepers, many of them tourists, but of course I refrained. Beauty is a personal thing, I suppose. The Arabs have a wonderful saying, that those who miss the first hour of the morning miss an hour stolen from paradise. Oh, so true for this particular morning. A cloudless day emerging, the scenery almost ethereal, little pockets of fog like winter duvets, still drawn when we passed, soon to disappear under the gaze of a strengthening sun. Then the broom would brush away such nightly folly and return the sky to its hurtful, azure blue.
The water in lakes and dams went from slate to silver as the morning grew. There had been plentiful rain in the past week and the fields gradually revealed their new green coat. Periodically, dark, inviting little cottages near the roadside, sometimes a lighted window, the sign of habitation, the early rising of a farmer to attend to his herd. The early light, not yet revealing signs of the usual farmhouse rubble, spent tractors and ploughs, abandoned old farm machinery, old vehicles, still all clothed by the night sky. Once too, like me, they were young, shiny, and virile, serving a purpose. Now, not a burial, nor even a trip on the trailer to the junk yard. Perhaps so, when stripped of parts.

Australia's rural countryside. From I caught the bus to Sydney
Rural countryside from the bus window on the return journey

Trees, stark in their blackness, sticks like those drawn by kids in the classroom. Cattle and sheep, darkened and still, too busy with breakfast to be bothered by the highway and its traffic. Now too, majestic, gnarled gums, glistening where bark had been shedded, whites, yellows, beige. 

The great poet, William Wordsworth, albeit in another context, wrote "the beauty of the morning, silent, bare." Sure, he was writing about the view from Westminster Bridge, London, starting off that "Earth has nothing to show more fair." Yet, his words were apposite of the scene we were passing by.

Oh, I do love the tenor of Dorothea Mackellar's quintessential poem about Australia: "I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains." Well I must say, that I love an "unburnt country," but further along the road, there was plenty of evidence of the ravages of bushfires. Swathes of blackened trees, mostly the hardy gum, which will, in time, grow back. The gums, like the Australian people, are a tough and hardy lot. They spring back after adversity, like bushfires, "the beauty and the terror, droughts and flooding rains."

Lake George on the way to Canberra - A “lake” that is usually dry. From  I caught the bus to Sydney
Lake George on the way to Canberra - A “lake” that is usually dry

On the outskirts of Sydney, the dozers awoke. Like in song, The Court of King Caractacus, they were "too late, (because the beauty) had just passed by." As with most cities, you pass through an industrial belt. Not its best face. Now nothing to look at but factories, overpasses, tunnels. Soon shops, parks, churches, the stucco and glass, towers blotting out the sun, the traffic, the noise, the vagrants, people rushing like ants from disturbed holes. 

For a moment, I looked at my fellow traveller, young, vibrant, engaged in another world, instant communications, Beyonce on the iPhone. The countryside of little interest, a place to be endured as merely transit to the lights, parties, and human thrum of activity, of Sydney. 

The Victorian era clock tower of Central station hove into view. We were there. Relief for everyone. I took the escalator to the concourse, and found the Mens!

Central Station: end of the bus journey in Sydney
Central Station: end of the bus journey in Sydney



Winfred Peppinck is the Tales of the Traveling Editor for Wandering Educators


All photos courtesy and copyright Winfred Peppinck